A Teachable Moment in Customer Service

Last week I stopped at a gas station to fill up and my credit card was declined. This was very distressing to me because I am obsessively fastidious about paying our bills, to the point that I pay my visa and amex bill in full as soon as I get it and sometimes I will get online and pay it before a statement even arrives because I hate the idea of owing anyone money.

I had an idea why my card was declined so I called the 800 number and after navigating the phone tree with 348 options I ended up speaking with an actual person. My card was “restricted” because of a “large and unusual transaction” which was in fact a legitimate transaction I had made the week before.

In my conversation with the call center agent I told her that I actually didn’t mind them “restricting” my card but what I did mind is that they neglected to tell me about it until I needed the card and the charge was denied. She told me that they tried to contact me by phone, to a number I had when I opened that account 20 years ago that is no longer valid.

I asked her why they could not send me an email notification considering they email me marketing promotions all the time as well as statements and payment verifications. Her response… “this is the way we do it”. There really is no worse answer to give a customer who is making a valid suggestion than “this is the way we do it” because the effect is to completely shut down an interaction that affects the way a customer thinks about the brand.

When your customers give you an idea or suggestion what they are ultimately seeking is validation. Of course I want to get “card restricted” notifications by email but on the call with the customer service agent what I really wanted was for her to acknowledge that my suggestion was valid.

Every interaction with a company adds to or detracts from the perception of that company in the eyes of the customer.